Ready, Set, Go! To Chester: Small prairie town fosters big time creativity
Story by CAROL BRADLEY
Photos by DARRIN SCHREDER
David and Shawna Jamison’s family had barely arrived in Chester last summer when Shawna and the four kids discovered, to their delight, a coffee bar at the Liberty County Library, where a cookie and cream ice rage can be had for just $3.
At the east end of town, a sparkling new swimming pool beckoned. The local arts center offers a 7-foot-long Yamaha piano if anyone cares to practice in style, and should any of the Jamison kids decide to take dancing, Catalina Carlon teaches classes. Her students are no slouches: come December, a group from Chester and Havre will head to San Diego to perform at the Holiday Bowl and march in a parade.
Despite a population of just 850 or so and a setting that feels light years from city life – on U.S. Highway 2 along the Hi-Line, halfway between Havre and Shelby – Chester is a magnet for music and art.
It’s first and foremost an agricultural town; an imposing silver grain elevator anchors the north end of First Street, Chester’s commercial hub. And it’s isolating. The nearest airport of any size is 100 miles south, in Great Falls. There’s no gourmet grocery, and dining-out options are limited to Spud’s Café for breakfast and lunch, and the Grand Bar for dinner. (The Inverness Bar and Supper Club is another 15 miles east).
But the tradeoff for residents is a creative clarity that seems to emanate from the scarcity of choices coupled with the anything’s-possible embrace of the sweeping, sand-colored prairie.
“I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything,” said Carlon, the dance teacher who grew up in New York City but has fallen in love with small-town life. “Living here you can find yourself a little bit better and be who you are. I think Chester offers exactly what I need.”
Chester got its start in 1891 when the Great Northern Railroad built a coal-loading station for its steam engines, but it really got going 20 years later when homesteaders flooded in. The first telegraph operator bestowed the name Chester in tribute to his Pennsylvania hometown.
Culturally, the town got an enormous boost when native son Philip Aaberg returned home in 2002. A Grammy-winning pianist and composer who combines jazz, rock, bluegrass and other elements to create an energetic and eclectic style, Aaberg, 65, grew up in Chester with his mother and his grandparents. When, as a young boy, he surpassed the local piano teachers, his mother, Helen Ann, put him on a train to Spokane every other Sunday through Tuesday so he could study under Juilliard-trained Margaret Saunders Ott.
Aaberg wasn’t the first gifted musician in town. His great-uncle played in a jazz band in the 1910s. Chester was the kind of place where “if you wanted to hear music, you made it yourself,” Aaberg said.
He and his wife, Patty, and their toddler son, Jake, were living in Oakland, California, but Aaberg missed his old life.
“I used to come back visiting family and as soon as I got over the pass into the plains, I’d start to breathe easier and I’d start to be inspired and I’d wonder why I wasn’t out here,” he said.
When the Liberty Village Arts Center invited him back to Montana for a year-and-a-half long composer’s residency, courtesy of a grant from the state Coal Tax Trust Fund, Aaberg found himself captivated by Chester’s homespun charm all over again. The family moved back into his grandparents’ house, which Aaberg still owned, and when the residency ended, they stayed put.
In the 12 years since, the Aabergs have started Sweetgrass Music, a recording studio located off a breezeway behind their house. Aaberg may be the only musician in America who’s managed to wedge a grand piano inside a grain bin, which is attached to the breezeway.
They’ve opened the Great Northern Bed and Breakfast – in a renovated homesteader’s cabin, at the far end of the breezeway – and recently they updated the second floor of the historic Westland Bank building on one end of First Street, where visitors can rent more rooms, share a common space and make their own breakfast in a full-size kitchen.
Their lodgings offer travelers to and from Glacier National Park a memorable place to stay. And for Aaberg, returning home has resulted in music that sounds both freer and bigger, a sound that seeks to capture the feel of that vast open space.
“The intrusion of noise and city life not only takes more time out of your schedule, but it diminishes your intellectual capacity in the sense that it just takes a lot of energy to keep that stuff out,” Aaberg said. “There are some people who are stimulated by the city. I’m one of those who is overwhelmed by the city. And what I’ve discovered here is that I get a lot more work done.”
His free Christmas concerts draw audiences from miles around.
Chester has its own public radio translator, which in rural Montana is a fairly big deal. It has a fitness center and a monthly book group. Until she moved to Helena, Trudy Skari coordinated an Japanese flower-arranging Ikebana club.
More than two dozen artists from a 60-mile radius display their work at the Liberty Village Arts Center, one of the first organizations of its kind in the state. The center operates out of what used to be St. Mary’s Catholic Church, built in 1910, and it’s the ideal place to stock up on the striking landscape photos of area residents Dean Hellinger and Janice Hendrickson, the metal yard work of Lowell and Denise Strissel of Hingham and more.
Chaille Hooley, a Chester native now living in Kalispell, has also begun selling stunning photos of the nearby Sweetgrass Hills. Tucked on one shelf are jars of homemade pickles and jam, and each December the center hosts a Christmas Village featuring the works of 16 vendors.
What you won’t find at the center are the delicate paper artworks of Katie Twedt. Cancer took the popular Rudyard art teacher last summer, on her 62nd birthday. The town memorialized her with a festive picnic at the Rudyard Park, where more than 200 mourners donned bright colors and dined on, among other things, chicken skewers with Thai peanut sauce (Katie had specifically asked that Tater Tot casseroles not be served.) Within two weeks, friends and neighbors had bought up every bit of Katie’s paper art the Arts Center had.
The catering was Patty Aaberg’s orchestration and something she enjoys. When “Julie and Julia,” the homage to Julia Child came to theaters five years ago, Patty hosted a dinner party featuring some of Child’s recipes. Diners then drove to the Hi-Line Theater in Rudyard to watch the movie, where Patty surprised every member of the audience with another Child recipe, pesto-stuffed mushrooms, which she’d driven over earlier in the day. There were plenty to go around.
In case Hi-Line living does start to feel a bit detached, Chester has an answer for that, too. Each year the Liberty Medical Center’s Foundation sells 300 tickets at $150 apiece as a fundraiser for the hospital. The event nets $25,000 or so, and once a month ticketholders have a chance to win a trip for two somewhere fun: to Hawaii, Costa Rica, the Kentucky Derby – the foundation delights in coming up with surprising destinations.
“People can’t wait to see who won,” said Rlynn Rockman, who runs the local funeral home. “We put it in the paper the very next day.”
Shawna Jamison spent a couple of years in Chester as a toddler and was happy to return when her husband, David, got the job as principal of the K-12 Chester-Joplin-Inverness School. She’d heard good things about the town, and not just because 20 neighbors gathered on moving day to help them unload. She’s thrilled with the children’s selections at the library, not to mention those lattes and Italian sodas.
The library delivers its drinks to the clinic, the post office and the school, and they’ve proven so popular that the proceeds have paid for a new ceiling, lights, shelving and windows.
“The Hi-Line people definitely use our library,” librarian Teresa Fenger said with a smile one recent morning as she watched a handful of patrons file in, take their seats at the computer stations and log on to find out what was happening in some other part of the world.
Carol Bradley is a frequent Montana Magazine contributor. She writes from Great Falls.
Ready, Set, Go! To Chester, Montana
Chester is located on U.S. Highway 2 halfway between Havre to the east and Shelby to the west. Chester has approximately 850 residents and serves as the county seat for Liberty County.
Chester is home to the Liberty Village Arts Center, the only arts and cultural center for a more than 60 mile radius. The center hosts exhibits and events throughout the year.
The Prairie Painters, a group of local women artists, are scheduled be featured in an art show in September. In October, the center plans to present its annual quilt show.
The Liberty Village Arts Center, located at 410 E. Main St., is open Tuesday through Friday from 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., and Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, visit libertyvillagearts.org.
Montana book review: A fiction fix
By DOUG MITCHELL
A comedic and poignant look at the complicated life of teenager growing up in a Montana. A young-adult novel that offers a first person account of a girl who turns to running after life doesn’t go as planned, and a debut novel from a Montana native that is sure to test readers’ understanding of the human condition. Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a handful of books based in or about Montana.
The Last Good Halloween
Tortoise Books, Chicago – 2014
Billings native Giano Cromley has made a significant statement with his first novel The Last Good Halloween. Another fine product of the University of Montana’s creative writing program, Cromley took a circuitous route to this first novel, but the product is well worth the wait.
Part Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Cromley’s book will make you laugh out loud and at the same time think carefully about the fragility of being a teenager.
Set in Montana, The Last Good Halloween is told in the first person voice of the book’s main character, Kirby Russo. Kirby is a teenager with a complicated existence and his story as told through Cromley’s skilled pen is poignant and compelling. And very, very funny.
There are certain lines from books that stay with a person for a lifetime and Halloween has given me one of those when Kirby says, “It’s a cocktail Debbie. And don’t try changing the subject.” You will have to read the book to get the context, but it’s that moment early in the book that told me quite clearly that this book is something special.
The characters Cromley develops are authentic and interesting. Kirby’s sidekicks in this narrative tale are Izzy, a girl from his typing class, and Julian, his best friend. Cromley gives them each a voice and a texture that is unique and important. In so doing, the author creates an interesting tension that gives the book a depth that makes it stand out.
Cromley’s first novel may be titled The Last Good Halloween but this will most assuredly not be his last good – very good – novel.
Giano Cromley answers questions about “The Last Good Halloween”
Montana Magazine: You made the world wait a while for your outstanding debut novel. Has this story been rattling around in your head for a while?
Giano Cromley: I’m glad you thought it was outstanding. If it had been up to me, I wouldn’t have made the world wait!
It’s funny because, while this is the first novel I’ve gotten published, it’s the fifth novel I’ve written. Some of those earlier manuscripts were able to stir up a bit of interest from the publishing world, but, for a variety of reasons, none of them ended up seeing the light of day. Of course, each unsuccessful novel was cause for long stretches of despair and career reevaluation, but I also learned something from each failure — about writing and about myself. (I fear I’m not exactly answering your question so far, but I think it’s a useful point to make for anyone who might be thinking of writing, to not buy into the myth that you just sit down at a keyboard and out flows a book that everyone loves. It takes a lot of work, yes, but it also takes a lot of psychic armor to sit back down at that desk with pen in hand when someone’s just told you they’re not interested in what you’ve done.)
At any rate, back to the actual question… My entry point for this novel was the voice of the narrator, Kirby Russo. For nearly a year, I’d sat on a couple pages I’d written in this precocious, angry voice where he’s soliloquizing about the mediocrity of his life. I knew the pages could turn into something, but I wasn’t sure what. The story of what happens to Kirby came a bit later, when I decided to thrust him into a Hamlet-like situation just to see how he’d react to it. From that point on, the story wrote itself rather quickly, probably six months. The whole time I was writing, I never referred to it as a novel because I didn’t want to jinx it. I called it a “project,” as if that might somehow shield me from disappointment should it end up in a shallow desk-drawer grave. Once I was done, though, I was fairly confident that there was a place for this book somewhere in the world. And I suppose time has proven me right.
MM: I’m glad you brought up the hero in our story, Kirby Russo. Be honest with me here…Russo? Is this some sort of writer man-crush?
GC: If you’re referring to Richard Russo, then: Busted. I’m a huge fan of his novel Straight Man. The way he blended humor and pathos was like a revelation to me in terms of my own personal writing style. It’s safe to say that that book helped me find my preferred writer’s voice. Kirby’s last name is definitely a nod to the debt I owe Richard Russo.
MM: Who else in terms of authors inspires your writing?
GC: I’m a literary sponge in many ways. Everything I read and like influences me, or at least inspires me. My own personal Mount Rushmore would probably consist of Richard Ford, Joan Didion, Raymond Carver, and Joy Williams. I also enjoy writers like Walter Kirn and Junot Diaz, who are perhaps a bit closer to being contemporaries. As far as left-field influences, I’d say a lot of the older Mountain Goats songs had a profound impact on my literary development.
MM: “The Sportswriter” or “Independence Day”?
GC: You’re killing me! I love both those books so much. I admire The Sportswriter for its clarity of purpose. And I adore Independence Day because I think that’s the one where Frank Bascombe’s voice really touches on transcendent truths. Equivocations aside, deserted island and I can only bring one of them with me? I’m going with Independence Day.
MM: Atta boy. Ford has owned a place in Chinook for a long time. Senator Baucus and I visited him there for coffee a lifetime ago. When you buy your place back home in Montana where will it be?
GC: I’ve heard about his place up there. I drove through a number of years ago, thinking I might just happen to see him strolling down the street. My early relatives homesteaded (somewhat unsuccessfully) around Chinook, but, personally, I’ve got mountains in my blood. I’d be thrilled to buy a place pretty much anywhere in Montana, though I have to say I’m partial to Red Lodge and Livingston.
MM: So what’s next for you as an author Giano?
GC: Right now, I’m working on a sequel to The Last Good Halloween. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d write one, but a while back the idea for what would happen next to Kirby just kind of organically popped into my head. It’s rare when I know almost the entire story arc before I start writing the story.
This one picks up a couple years after the first one ends. And I think I struggled for a bit initially because I kept writing Kirby as if he were still fifteen. But he wasn’t anymore. There’s a big difference between 15 and 17, and I had to wrap my mind around those changes. Which ended up being one of those writing lessons that’s applicable to life in general: You have to let people grow and become who they’re going to be, even if you’re not entirely thrilled about who they might be turning into.
MM: I had the privilege of knowing your dad from his time in the Montana Legislature and enough about your growing up in Billings to know that Kirby’s story is not autobiographical. So, where did Kirby come from for you?
GC: You’re right that the story is not autobiographical. In fact, the setup of the story is a pretty shameless rip-off of Hamlet (a little known play by some English dude, or so I’m told). As for where Kirby came from, that’s a much harder question. The straightest answer I can give is that he emerged from a vague, shapeless feeling. I was dwelling on the idea of a young person who felt aggrieved by the total averageness of his life. He had the vision to see where his path might be headed, and the audacity (or naiveté) to think he might be able to change it. How exactly that feeling turned into a fully formed literary character is part of the finger-touching-Adam thing that goes on in writing. I can’t exactly explain it other than to say that I made myself feel those things deeply and tried to write Kirby from that feeling.
MM: Thanks so much for taking the time Giano…but I can’t let you go without one last question: what’s your favorite Mountain Goats song?
GC: Hands down, my favorite Mountain Goats song is “Going to Queens” off the Sweden album. It’s kind of my wife’s and my song, since it played a rather large role in my early efforts to woo her. The last line where they sing, “I will know who you are yet,” strikes me as one of the truest things you can say about the human condition — we go through life struggling to know people, vowing to know them, yet despite our best efforts, there is always something we are missing, there is always more to learn. You could say it’s served as a lodestar to most of my writing efforts.
On The Road To Find Out
Farrar Straus Giroux, New York – 2014
As a 54 year old male, I may not be the target audience for Rachel Toor’s young adult novel On The Road To Find Out, but I loved every single page. Charming, thoughtful and beautifully written, On The Road To Find Out represents a remarkable fiction debut for Toor, yet another noteworthy graduate of the University of Montana’s graduate creative writing program.
This is the story of Alice Davis, an awkward teenage girl who has just been rejected from her dream college (Yale) and who decides at the urging of her best friend Jenni to make a New Year’s resolution. You guessed it: Alice decides to take up running.
This story is a natural fit for Toor, an accomplished marathon runner herself who also worked as an admissions officer at Duke University and who has published books about each avocation in two of her previous nonfiction books.
But make no mistake, On The Road To Find Out is not a compiled fictional account of Toor’s other books. This is a fresh, wholly new tale that, while it tills familiar soil, results in a harvest of discovery for reader and writer alike.
Toor writes the book in the first person and Alice owns the tone and pace of her story from the very first page. That’s how Alice lives and so Toor writes her that way. That is one of the qualities that makes On The Road To Find Out so special. It is told in the genuine voice of the main character and we learn about the other, rich characters through that lens. This gives us as readers not only the ability to learn about the characters themselves, but to judge how and why the narrator, Alice, perceives them.
On The Road To Find Out is one of my very favorite books of the year and I believe it deserves a readership well outside the young adult section.
Rachel Toor answers questions about “The Road to Find Out”
Montana Magazine: This is your fourth book, but first novel. How different was the experience of writing fiction for you?
Rachel Toor: The biggest difference is that it was really fun. I find writing nonfiction, or at least, the thinking that’s required, hard and painful. Writing the novel was more like play. Often when I’ve heard novelist friends talk about writing I think: Are you freaking kidding me? You *like* to write? They said things that I thought sounded nutty, like: “I’m just so interested to see what’s going to happen.” I’d think: As if you’re not in control? Well guess what? You’re not. Stuff comes up and you wonder where it came from. For me, I was shocked at how much mother-daughter dynamics came into the book. I didn’t think that was what I was writing about. And then there are these things that kind of echo throughout that you weren’t aware of putting in. It makes me think the whole enterprise of literary criticism, at least the way it’s taught in English departments, is kind of suspect.
MM: So you started from a familiar foundation; running and college admissions, and just let ‘er rip?
RT: I’d been working on a nonfiction book proposal for about a year and my agent had finally sent it out to publishers. Then I got an email from an editor at Farrar Straus and Giroux who had just read my running book and asked if I’d ever considered writing a young adult novel about a teenage girl who starts running. I had not. I was flattered, but told him I couldn’t write fiction. Ridiculous, he said. So I wrote a bunch of bad pages, sent them to him, threw them out, wrote more, realized they were terrible, but soon, with his help, I started figuring out how to do it. And had a lot of fun. When we got an offer on the nonfiction book I decided I was way more interested in working on the novel. I had no interest in writing another book about running and realized that I didn’t have to: running would provide the vehicle for me to look at a whole bunch of things I was interested in, like failure and loss and how to figure out what your passions are.
MM: Your passion for running comes through in many of the characters. If you had a bib on Joan’s wall at the running store, which one would it be and what would it say?
RT: This is going to sound horrendously corny, but for me, my bib might say something as embarrassing as “running=love.” I only started running because a man I was dating would take my dog for runs and eventually I decided I didn’t want to be left behind. We had all our hard relationships talks during runs. The races I care most about are not those where I won or ran well, but where I made a connection: had a great conversation with another person, figured something out in my head, or was in a beautiful place and felt at home in the world. My most profound experiences have always come from serving as a pacer; I’ve led pace groups at marathons, accompanied other runners for the last 40 miles of a 100 mile race, and have jogged beside a friend in her first race. Those are the times when I cry after crossing the finish line. Often when I’m running my heart gets full of love. It’s that simple, and that corny.
MM: I loved your term “happy brown sign” – what’s your favorite “happy brown sign”?
RT: “Happy brown signs,” no matter where they are or what they’re marking – trailheads, camping sites, historical sites – always delight me. There’s one near volcanic Mount Adams in Washington that says, “Big tree.” It’s a giant ponderosa pine, one of the biggest. And it has its own happy brown sign. Generally, though, when I see a happy brown sign with the two hikers on it, I start to swoon.
MM: I was in Tread Lightly the running store here in Helena recently and the owner Sarah said she had met you at a race and that running wise you are the real deal. What’s your favorite race in Montana?
RT: I met Sarah during my favorite Montana race, one of my favorite races anywhere, the Elkhorn 50K. Even though I’ve gotten lost on the course a number of times, and have finished it bloody, bruised, and practically crying for my mommy, I love, love, love that race. We camp out at the start the night before (sometimes I sleep in my car if I’m too lazy to put up my sleeping bag) and the day run until it hurts–and then keep going. At the top of the hardest summit the volunteers cook bacon and salmon and offer you whiskey. It’s beautiful and challenging and full of good people. What more could you ask for?
MM: What’s on your “must read” list these days?
RT: The books I’ve read recently that I’ve loved are a real cross-section: Chimanda Adichie’s Americanah is my favorite novel in recent memory; Scarcity, a book with big ideas about poverty by a Sendhil Mullainathan, an economist and Eldar Shafir, a psychologist blew me away. I loved You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You, and I’m looking forward to digging into Michael Lewis’s new one, Flash Boys and Joseph Finder’s Suspicion. As always, it’s an eclectic mix.
When it comes to books I think other people should read, I’m in a great position because, as a professor, I get to require my students to read them. Some of the nonfiction books I often assign are Thomas Lynch’s collection of essays, The Undertaking (he’s a poet-undertaker from Michigan–yes, you read that right), Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home, the essays of Joan Didion, the books of John McPhee, and George Orwell’s pieces “Politics and the English Language” and “Shooting an Elephant.”
MM: One last question Rachel, what’s next for you writing wise?
RT: Same old, same old. I do a monthly column on writing and publishing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, a bi-monthly one for Running Times, contribute periodically to Athleta’s Chi blog and an outdoors magazine based in Delhi, India. So I’m always behind on something. But since writing this novel was so much fun, I’ve started on another one. I feel like I still have a lot to learn, and love doing.
MM: Thanks for taking the time Rachel – see you on the trails!
Fourth of July Creek
Harper Collins, New York – 2014
I found myself oddly unsettled by Smith Henderson’s powerful debut novel Fourth of July Creek. I mean that to be taken as a compliment to the writer and a challenge to the reader.
This book will move you in unexpected ways and take you places in a way that somehow both deepens our understanding and questions what we think we understand about the human condition.
Set in Northwest Montana, Fourth of July Creek is the story of a Montana Department of Family Services caseworker named Pete Snow. To cast Pete as a hero would be, in my view, to badly misunderstand Henderson’s book. And yet one spends 400-plus pages rooting for Pete and for something good – something right – to happen for him.
I couldn’t put this book down. The writing by this Montana native is exquisite, the story compelling and the style innovative and finely executed.
Part mystery and part morality play, Fourth of July Creek is set in the early 1980s and follows not only the daily journeys of Pete Snow, but in very interesting fashion breaks away from that narrative to use the voice of Pete’s daughter, Rachel, as she travels a different but intersecting path. Henderson pulls no punches, in the style of Cormack McCarthy, but you just can’t turn away from the brilliance of the tale.
Here’s Henderson turning his pen into a paintbrush; “How trout looked in that water, brown and wavering and glinting all the colors there were and maybe some that didn’t really exist on the color wheel, a color, say, that was moss and brown-spotted like peppercorns and a single terra-cotta colored stone and a flash of sunlight all at once.”
Fourth of July Creek is a truly stunning debut by a truly gifted writer who is just getting started on a career that promises to be –“like a flash of sunlight all at once” – very bright indeed.
Smith Henderson answers questions about “Fourth of July Creek”
Montana Magazine: This is a complicated book. I take it the words did not just fly on to the page, but rather each page and each chapter was carefully constructed. Tell us a little about your writing process.
Smith Henderson: Every day (when I’m working on a novel), I get up, brew a pot of coffee and write for a couple hours. Been doing that for about 10 years. I work on a different problem on different days. Sometimes it’s just banging out the prose, other times it’s deeper plot stuff. Sometimes, early on, it’s just exploratory writing.
Books are just made out of thousands of pages of stuff that will never see the light of day.
MM: The chapters written from Rose’s perspective have no page numbers. Is that intentional?
SH: Those are also written in Q&A format. It was entirely intentional that the sections about her be inquisitive, speculative, full of anxiety and doubt. Leaving the page numbers out just added to the conjectural quality of her story.
MM: How did your growing up in Montana, if at all, impact your decision to make Montana the location for Fourth of July Creek?
SH: It was key. Once I realized that the Montana I know and love was interesting and borderline exotic to others, I just dove into my knowledge and memory. There was really not much of a decision to make. It’s my bio-geography. This book had to be set in Montana.
MM: I’m curious about the naming of our two main characters. What should I read, if anything, into your naming them “Snow” and “Pearl”?
SH: I think Pete is fleeting and melting and falling. Jeremiah has hardened, calcified. They are both white men, which was something I wanted to indicate in their names, their lack of color. Not just racially, but in some sense they have drained their lives of color. Pete is less judgmental, but both see themselves as good guys in white hats, I’d say.
But it really wasn’t all that intentional. I just thought it fit.
MM: OK, last, as a Montanan, I couldn’t help chuckling about your use of Wyoming as a verb. Where did that come from?
SH: I like to pull language apart, pull words away or towards their more esoteric meanings. In the case of Wyoming, however, I have no earthly idea what the origin of that word is. I rather like to think of “wyom” as a verb. It feels like the definition in the book is right—it’s about heartache on the road.
In the Name of Nature: A photographic tribute to Lee Metcalf
Essay by GORDON SULLIVAN
Photography by GORDON and CATHIE SULLIVAN
Lee Metcalf was born and raised in the agrarian town of Stevensville nestled in the prominent shadow of Montana’s Bitterroot Mountain Range. He grew to manhood influenced by two unique forces which would not only assist him in later life but scribe an indelible mark on the state of Montana.
Raised among friends and neighbors who for generations forged a livelihood from the natural landscape, by way of agriculture, logging and mining, Metcalf grew to appreciate both the bounty nature brings to families and the fragile character and rareness of wild places around him.
Montanans elected Metcalf to Congress first as a representative in 1953 and finally as a senator in 1961. His role in Congress came at a time when the nation was embroiled in debate over the passage of the Wilderness Bill.
First drafted in 1956 by Howard Zanhizer, the proposed legislation abruptly etched deep lines of separation between powerful factions.
The bill’s preamble reads: “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”
On one side stood those embracing the continued utilitarian use of wild America, on the other those advocating federal protection for untrammeled places such as Northwest Montana’s Cabinet Mountains area and the wild landscape that would one day become the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness southwest of Stevensville.
Montana Sen. Lee Metcalf, armed with the lessons learned in the Bitterroot Valley, clearly saw both sides of the complex issue. He lent his voice and tireless diplomacy to the help ensure the passage of the Wilderness Act.
The bill took 66 revisions and eight long years of compromise and conciliation before finally voted into law on Sept. 3, 1964.
In the wake of political vision of leaders like Metcalf, America’s treasured wilderness system has blossomed from 9.1 million acres in 1964 to the 109 million precious acres we enjoy today.
In recognition for his hard work and vigilant effort on behalf of wild America the spectacular Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge located just outside Stevensville was renamed in his honor.
As yet another season of brilliant autumn sun settles atop the spiny Bitterroot Range west of the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge, we are reminded of a legacy of strong leadership that makes Montana truly special.
Gordon and Cathie Sullivan are longtime contributors to Montana Magazine. They work from Libby.
To see the entire Portfolio on the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Refuge, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
In the land of honey and mountains
Story and photos by JESSICA LOWRY
The honeybees in Babb have a busy travel itinerary to keep.
They wake during the summer to sunrises in fields of clover and alfalfa with sweeping views of Chief Mountain and Glacier National Park.
When the constant wind turns cold, they hit to road to spend the winter months in the south, enjoying time under the branches of almond trees in a California orchard.
What sounds like a schedule fit for Hollywood elite is just an average year for the bees inside the 1,500 hives owned by Glacier County Honey.
For much of the year, the company’s brightly colored bee boxes dot the lush landscape in a vibrant confetti of mustard, cobalt and rust outside Babb.
In a white T-shirt and jeans, Glacier County Honey co-owner Greg Fullerton, 30, weaves between the colorful rows of hives and thru humming clouds of bees.
A protective bee net hangs loosely from Greg’s worn baseball cap as he and his crew work to remove boxes brimming with honey and wax and replace them with empty ones.
“I grew up with it,” said Greg of how he got into the beekeeping business.
The buzz on Glacier County’s bees: Courtney and Greg Fullerton to tell us a little more about the bees that make their honey:
What kind of bees do you keep at Glacier County Honey?
What is the lifespan of a bee?
Lifespan of a bee depends on the time of year – in summer, they’re working so hard some literally fly their wings off, and can expect to live about 3 weeks. But once the queen shuts down production in preparation for winter, they’ll live through the winter.
How many bees help make Glacier County Honey?
In the summer months, about 90 million bees at any given time help make Glacier County (and Chief Mountain) honey.
What is your favorite fact about bees that many people don’t know?
Bees communicate with each other by dancing.
There are lots of different types of dances, but our favorite is the Waggle Dance – when a worker bee finds a good nectar source, like a field of alfalfa, she comes back to the hive and does a dance, using the sun as a compass, and tells the other bees where to find this nectar. All worker bees are female. The males are really only around for mating purposes, they don’t even have a stinger, and when they become a burden to the hive – in the winter – the workers kick them out of the hive to die.
Also, bees don’t gather honey, bees make honey. They bring nectar back to the hive in a special honey stomach (they also bring back pollen in “chaps” or pockets on their legs) and they add some special enzymes and fan the nectar down to make honey in the honeycomb that they build in their hive (they have wax secreting glands on their backs).
Bees make honey to eat honey (that’s what they live on), but given the right amount of space and forage and weather, they’ll make more than they could ever need to survive, hence, the possibility of commercial beekeeping.
To read the entire story on Glacier County honey, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Why I love Montana
Written and submitted by Lindie Gibson, Livingston
I love Montana because my grandmother was born here in 1897 to parents who came from Norway to start a new life in the Land of Opportunity. Then, my mother came along in 1925 and me in 1953, and my son in 1975. My son started his family here in 1994, and Montana will always remain my home.
For a place to be called “home” it needs to be more than a place to tie your horse to a hitchin’ post and pitch your tent, or a railway stop at the end of the line.
Montana is an environment offering a variety of opportunities and experiences coinciding with the awe and wonder of nature; a place where people realize that earning a good living is not as important as the experience of true living – in harmony with God and man – the way it was meant to be.
Montana is a place where you can hold your head high and see limitless sky and feel purifying wind blowing through your hair – where you can study a ceiling of a starry night – unshrouded by big city lights.
It’s a place where your neighbor is your friend, where strangers still reach out with a helping hand, and where a man’s word and handshake are as good as any piece of paper.
Montana is a place where living in the slow lane of life is a much preferred lifestyle – where watching a colt or frisky young calf run and dance in a field is better than the best programming TV has to offer – where hiking and camping and fishing diminish the lure of holiday cruises and Disneyland – for making and sharing memories while our children grow.
Montana is a place where the roar of the hustle and bustle of life is drowned out by the solitude and silence of nature and the music heard in the sounds of birds and creatures that inhabit our wheat fields and countrysides and woodlands.
Montana is home to the deer and antelope that play, and a few buffalo that still roam; with golden sunsets and flaming orange sunrises and crystal clear lakes and stream.
Montana is also a place where nature dresses in the beauty of four distinct seasons; a never-ending reminder of the omniscience of God.
Our state is home to everyone in between – a place where all are considered equal in the eyes of the Montanan.
Why do I love Montana?
Because Montana is a land rich in resources and experiences that are treasured – and for generations, the love and appreciation for Montana remains in the hearts and homes of its people – as one of its greatest treasures.
Montana lost a good one
Sent by Shane Morger, Ventura, Calif.
I always knew part of my budget for Christmas gifts to my dad, Wally Morger, would include renewing his subscription to Montana Magazine.
I will have to “reassign” that subscription this year.
On March 24, dad passed away one month shy of his 91st birthday in the greatest of small towns, in which he was born, raised and died: Fort Benton.
But what a remarkable life he led.
Dad was a proud American – but even a prouder Montanan- father of nine children, grandfather of 20 and great-grandfather to six, a WWII Marine veteran who displayed his proud past on his license plate that read “IWO JIMA.”
He actually owned an autographed photo of the first flag raising on Mount Suribachi.
Of course those years included 90 winters when I’m sure there were times when he thought of warmer climates, but would always quote C.M. Russell’s famous picture, “Waiting for a Chinook.”
I guess the greatest tribute at his memorial was looking back at the funeral procession and seeing an endless trail of cars and trucks on their way to the Fort Benton Cemetery.
(The accompanying picture taken at the memorial) is of his three active duty grandsons, who presented our step-mom, Muncie, with the American flag. . . Look at the faces of the small children who were witness to such an emotional send off.
We lost a great one, Jenna, but one that will be remembered forever.
Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Kasey Austin
By Brett Berntsen
Photo by Kelvin Pinney
Montana’s mountains, rivers and valleys often speak for themselves, but to fully appreciate the beauty of Big Sky Country it helps to have a guide.
Kasey Austin is one of the best in the region. Indeed, the world.
Already a veteran of the industry at just 25, the Billings native was recently named the top family guide of 2014 by Outside Magazine. The recognition reflects Austin’s dedication to showing off her home turf with sprightly enthusiasm and awe.
“As long as you’re passionate about a place it will show in every single thing you do,” she said.
At the same time, it also helps to have a background jam-packed with experience.
Growing up, Austin’s father, Dan, ran a tour company out of the basement.
She remembers guides camping out in her backyard and swapping the “craziest” stories; climbing trees to divert wild animals away from guests, taking a blast of bear spray in the face, finding a human toe floating down a river.
“Back then I thought it was completely normal,” she said. “I thought that was every kid’s upbringing.”
Austin started tagging along on trips at the age of six, and began to rack up tales of her own; breaking her collar bone while biking in the Tetons, turning a corner to come nose-to-nose with a moose.
She soon embodied the lifestyle, constantly pestering other guides for tasks.
“I wanted to be a guide so bad,” she said. “I bet it was annoying.”
The involvement taught Austin the intangibles of tourism, spurring the development of her family-oriented philosophy. If the children are happy, she says like a mantra, the rest will follow.
“You’d be surprised at the number of people who are intimidated by talking to kids, but there are so many questions you can ask. ‘What’s your favorite color?’ can turn into an hour-long conversation.”
Time in the field also provided Austin with a few tricks to brighten a dreary day. The most memorable involves eating a balled-up chocolate PowerBar disguised on the ground as moose poop.
“I had a kid puke once on my trip because he thought it was so real,” she said, adding in hindsight, “I’m not sure if we need to put that in the interview.”
But despite an upbringing that all but screamed destiny, a career in tourism was never written on the wall for Austin.
“I didn’t want to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” she said. “That’s not what I wanted to do in college.”
Instead she pursued teaching, graduating in 2011 from the University of Montana with a degree in elementary education. After no schools bit on job applications, however, it was either try and break into subbing or take a full-time position with the family business, Austin Adventures.
“I’m glad I chose the latter,” she said.
The trips that followed, around Montana and across the world, sealed the deal. While Austin emphasizes the demands of guiding – working from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., constantly answering to guests’ needs – she says the work provides endless rewards.
“Everyone wants to have a cool job like this,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine being a teacher anymore.”
Complementing her guiding savvy, Austin recently transitioned to the managerial side of the industry. As vice president of operations for Austin Adventures, she plans future trips and handles logistics, always remembering to view aspects through the eyes or binoculars of guests. She hopes to grow the business into the future, a goal fomented by her Outside Magazine honor.
“Awards are huge in this industry,” she said. “Everyone is looking for kudos.”
And now that she makes the schedule, she can pencil herself in to share the places she holds dearest.
“Montana is the easiest place to fall in love with,” she said. “I can do whatever I want, but Montana is going to show itself off.”
Can you describe your job as an adventure tour guide in two sentences?
My job as an adventure tour guide involves making connections with and between the people and places I work in. Sharing a passion and excitement for adventure, wilderness, and wildlife is the goal; I want my guests to fall in love with the same things I love.
What is the best part about guiding trips inside Yellowstone National Park?
The best part about guiding trips inside Yellowstone is seeing how the Park changes (drastically at times) from season to season. Wildlife viewing is probably my favorite activity (although it has a lot of competition) – I love seeing the bright red bison calves in the spring and the male elk in the rut in the fall.
Where in Montana do you go to relax?
To relax, I go anywhere I can take a hike. Walking for miles and miles can clear the mind and create a fresh start to a busy week. My favorite hiking base is Red Lodge, MT.
What three words describe Montana?
Stunning. Refreshing. Adventurous.
Lake McDonald Lodge, Granite Park and Sperry chalets reach century mark
By Becky Lomax
A flurry of new destinations threw open their doors in Glacier National Park a century ago. In summer 1914, Lake McDonald Lodge and two backcountry chalets admitted visitors who gaped in awe at the splendor — both inside and outside. This summer, 100 years later, visitors can have much the same experience as in the early days overnighting at these three National Historic Landmarks owned by the U.S. National Park Service.
If you’ve been there, done that. Think again. You might need to tack on a repeat trip to Lake McDonald Lodge, Granite Park Chalet and Sperry Chalet.
Because although the lodges retain the look and feel of the original days with distinctive stonework and log beam-and-post architecture, a few recent changes make the modern experience different.
Stay in a chalet
For reservation information about Glacier National Park’s chalets visit:
Lake McDonald Lodge, www.glaciernationalparklodges.com, 855-733-4522
Granite Park Chalet, www.graniteparkchalet.com, 888-345-2649
Sperry Chalet, www.sperrychalet.com, 888-345-2649
To view the entire story on lodge and chalets, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.